Iowa Supreme Court hears Des Moines Water Works lawsuit oral arguments


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A drainage tile flowing into a waterway in Sac Country, Iowa. (iprimages/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | September 16, 2016

Five Iowa Supreme Court Justices heard arguments on Wednesday in a legal suit filed by the Des Moines Water Works against three northwest Iowa counties for the pollution of 500,000 residents’ drinking water.

A Des Moines Water Works attorney asked the court to reconsider the legal immunity that drainage districts have been granted for nearly a century and to determine whether the water utility could seek monetary damages. Removing nitrates that flowed into the Raccoon and Skunk rivers cost Water Works $1.5 million last year alone. The utility said that the water has exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking limit of 10 milligrams per liter several times in recent years.

Des Moines Water Works CEO Bill Stowe said that monetary damages for past contamination and increased federal oversight of drainage districts are both important. As nitrate levels in waterways increased throughout the 1990’s, Des Moines Water Works built the largest ion exchange nitrate removal facility in the world, with a $4.1 million dollar price tag. The utility said that a larger facility will be necessary by 2020, claiming the project would cost up to $183.5 million dollars. Farming communities in Sac, Calhoun, and Buena Vista counties are concerned that farmers will be responsible for payment should the damages be awarded. Typically, if county officials decide to lay new drainage tiles or repair old ones, farmers have footed the bill.

Michael Reck, a lawyer representing the three counties, presented several examples in which Iowa courts honored the legal immunity of drainage districts. Des Moines Water Works attorney John Lande said that this is the first time public health has been at stake in such court proceedings. He argued that drainage districts were established to protect the public health of  Iowa communities. He said that they have repeatedly failed to do so when nitrate levels were found to be four times the EPA’s limit downstream.

Whether or not damages are awarded, the Iowa Legislature has been moved to consider water quality protection measures. A reallocation of tax money from public schools to water quality projects failed to pass last year, as did a 3/8-cent water quality sales tax bill. Some say that they are hopeful the sales tax proposal will be reintroduced this year. The policy would generate $150 million dollars a year for built water quality management projects.

Iowa’s largest solar farm opens in Kalona


Nick Fetty | July 31, 2014

The largest solar array in Iowa will host its grand opening today in rural Kalona, approximately 25 miles southwest of Iowa City.

The array will feature 2,900 solar grids spread across roughly 4.5 acres. This is almost three times the size of the state’s current largest solar array located on the north edge of the Luther College campus in Decorah. The Kalona farm is expected to generate about 1.1 million kilowatt hours per year which is enough energy to power roughly 120 homes.

The project is a collaboration between Farmers Electric Cooperative and Eagle Point Solar. Farmers Electric Cooperative was formed in 1916 and is based out of Frytown just north of Kalona. The cooperative provides electricity for about 650 members in rural eastern Iowa and aims to generate 15% of its energy using renewable sources by 2025.

Eagle Point Solar is a Dubuque-based solar panel company with more than a dozen projects in Dubuque, Peosta and New Vienna in Iowa as well as Galena and East Dubuque in Illinois. Earlier this month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Eagle Point Solar was not violating state law by selling electricity to the city of Dubuque generated by solar panels on the roofs of city buildings. The ruling was viewed as a major win for solar energy advocates.

In an editorial published in the Des Moines Register, CNA Corp.’s Military Advisory Board member Ronald Keys said renewable energy sources such as the Kalona solar farm “is good not just for Iowa’s economy and environment, but it also helps set the tone for how to secure our nation’s energy, economic and security future.”

Court to decide if solar energy installer is infringing on utilities’ rights


Photo by h080; Flickr

The case hinges on whether Eagle Point Solar can install its solar systems on a business or municipality’s building and then sell the electricity produced back to the entity even though a utility has exclusive rights to the customers.

To read more, head over to the Des Moines Register. 

Iowa Supreme Court approves MidAmerican wind expansion


Photo by kendoman26, Flickr.

The Iowa Supreme Court today voted in favor of a significant wind energy expansion by MidAmerican Energy.

The 5-0 ruling upheld a decision made by the Iowa Utilities Board in 2009, which allowed MidAmerican to raise customer’s rates to cover the cost of an expansion in wind energy production.

The court said the decision was based on “substantial evidence” that the expansion would reduce emissions, diversify fuel supply, promote economic development, and maintain reasonable prices for utility customers.

NextEra Energy Resources, who opposed the ruling, argued that MidAmerican did not demonstrate a need for the expansion, and didn’t sufficiently consider the alternatives.

For more information, read the full article at the Des Moines Register.